Washington, D.C.’s shopping scene is thriving, thanks to the city’s strong economy. With its low unemployment rate, high-income population, and vigorous spending statistics for both visitors and residents, Washington continues to attract major retailers to open stores here. Just look at the list of tenants landing at the Penn Quarter’s new posh, multi-purpose complex, CityCenter DC: Hermes, Longchamp, Tumi, Kate Spade New York, and Dior are among the newly arrived or soon to come chi-chi shops. Local entrepreneurs, meanwhile, are doing quite nicely, at long-established stores, like The Phoenix in Georgetown, and in newer boutiques, like Hill’s Kitchen on Capitol Hill. Wherever you are in the city, shops present a variety of wares, prices, and styles.
The Shopping Scene
Most Washington-area stores are open from 10am to 5 or 6pm Monday through Saturday. Sunday hours vary, with some stores opting not to open at all and others with shorter hours of noon to 5 or 6pm. Many stores in Georgetown and at Union Station tend to keep later hours and are also open on Sunday. Other exceptions include suburban shopping malls, which are open late nightly, and antiques stores and art galleries, which tend to keep their own hours.
Sales tax on merchandise is 5.75% in the District, 6% in Maryland, and 6% in Virginia. Most gift, arts, and crafts stores, including those at the Smithsonian museums, will handle shipping for you; clothing stores generally do not.
Great Shopping Areas
Union Station -- It’s a railroad station, a historic landmark, an architectural marvel, a Metro stop, and a shopping mall. Yes, the beauteous Union Station offers some fine shopping opportunities; it’s certainly the best on Capitol Hill, with more than 100 clothes, specialty, and souvenir shops, and more than 40 eateries. Metro: Union Station.
Penn Quarter -- The area bounded east and west by 7th and 14th streets NW, and north and south by New York and Pennsylvania avenues NW, continues to develop as a central shopping area, despite the economic crisis. As noted above, nothing broadcasts this more than the opening of CityCenter DC, the 10-acre complex (btw. 9th and 11th streets northwest and H St. and New York Ave. NW) of condominiums, offices, a hotel, restaurants, and . . . high end shops. Elsewhere in the quarter look for brands like Urban Outfitters, Bed, Bath & Beyond, H&M, Forever 21, Zara, and Anthropologie. One-of-a-kind places include museum shops at the National Building Museum, the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Portrait Gallery, and the International Spy Museum; and the delightful jewelry store, Mia Gemma . Macy’s (formerly “Hecht’s”), at 12th and G streets, continues as the sole department store downtown. Metro: Metro Center, Gallery Place–Chinatown, or Archives–Navy Memorial.
Adams Morgan -- Centered on 18th Street and Columbia Road NW, Adams Morgan is a neighborhood of ethnic eateries and nightclubs interspersed with the odd secondhand bookshop and eclectic collectibles stores. It’s a fun area for walking and shopping. Parking is possible during the day but impossible at night. For the closest Metro, you have a few choices: Woodley Park–Zoo/Adams Morgan, then walk south on Connecticut Avenue NW until you reach Calvert Street, cross Connecticut Avenue, and follow Calvert Street across the Duke Ellington Memorial Bridge until you reach the junction of Columbia Road NW and 18th Street NW. Second choice: Dupont Circle; exit at Q Street NW and walk up Connecticut Avenue NW to Columbia Road NW. Best bet: the D.C. Circulator bus, which runs between the McPherson Square and the Woodley Park–Zoo/Adams Morgan Metro stations.
Connecticut Avenue/Dupont Circle -- Running from K Street north to S Street, Connecticut Avenue NW is a main thoroughfare, where you’ll find traditional clothing at Brooks Brothers, Ann Taylor, and Burberry’s; casual duds at Gap; and haute couture at Rizik’s. Closer to Dupont Circle are coffee bars and neighborhood restaurants, as well as art galleries; funky boutiques; gift, stationery, and book shops; and stores with a gay and lesbian slant. Metro: Farragut North at one end, Dupont Circle at the other.
U&14th Street Corridors -- Urbanistas have been promoting this neighborhood for years, but now the number of cool shops, restaurants, and bars has hit the critical mass mark, winning the area widespread notice. If you shun brand names and box stores, you’ll love the vintage boutiques and affordable fashion shops along U and 14th streets. Look for provocative handles, like Miss Pixie’s Furnishings and Whatnot, then step inside to inspect their equally intriguing merchandise. Metro: U Street/African American Civil War Memorial/Cardozo.
Georgetown -- If you don’t want to mess around, just head to Georgetown. This is and always will be the city’s main shopping area. Most of the stores sit on the two main, intersecting streets, Wisconsin Avenue and M Street NW. You’ll find both chain and one-of-a-kind shops, chic as well as thrift. Sidewalks and streets are almost always crowded, and parking can be tough. Weekends especially bring out all kinds of yahoos, who are mainly here to drink. Visit Georgetown on a weekday morning, if you can. Weeknights are another good time to visit, for dinner and strolling afterward. Metro: Foggy Bottom, then catch the D.C. Circulator bus from the stop at 22nd Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. Metro buses (the no. 30 series) travel through Georgetown from different parts of the city. Otherwise, consider taking a taxi. If you drive, you’ll find parking lots expensive and tickets even more so, so be careful where you plant your car.
Upper Wisconsin Avenue Northwest -- In a residential section of town known as Friendship Heights on the D.C. side and Chevy Chase on the Maryland side (7 miles north of Georgetown, straight up Wisconsin Ave.) is a quarter-mile shopping district that extends from Saks Fifth Avenue at one end to Sur La Table at the other. In between are Lord & Taylor, Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale’s, and Versace (to name just a few stores), and three malls (the Mazza Gallerie, Chevy Chase Pavilion, and the Shops at Wisconsin Place). The street is too wide and traffic always too snarled to make this a pleasant place to stroll, although teenagers do love to loiter here. Drive if you want and park in the garages beneath the Mazza Gallerie, Chevy Chase Pavilion, or Bloomingdale’s. Or take the Metro; the strip is right on the Red Line, with the “Friendship Heights” exits leading directly into each of the malls.
Old Town Alexandria -- Old Town, a Virginia neighborhood beyond National Airport, resembles Georgetown in its picturesque location on the Potomac, historic-home–lined streets, and plentiful shops and restaurants, as well as in its less desirable aspects: heavy traffic, crowded sidewalks, difficult parking. Old Town extends from the Potomac River in the east to the King Street Metro station in the west, and from about 1st Street in the north to Green Street in the south, but the best shopping is in the center, where King and Washington streets intersect. Weekdays are a lot tamer than weekends. It’s always a nice place to visit, though; the drive alone is worth the trip.